Days Out - A castle tour of North Wales

By Dan | Feb 20th, 2022 - 8:37pm

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There is a wealth of breathtaking castles around North Wales and Snowdonia, so why not make a day of touring around them? You can bounce from castle to castle with relative ease and get to see a wealth of history and wonder! It is incredible the amount of history Wales has to offer and so many settlements feature these amazing structures as a centre point - from the English constructed Ring of Iron to the Welsh built fortifications that predate them, there is such a variety and rich history on offer that visitors to the area should really take them all in. Based on this idea, I thought it might be worthwhile planning a single day where you check out all of the most prominent castles in one day trip. The castles in and around Snowdonia are some of the most beautiful on these isles, so without further adieu, let's start planning...

For this one, you will need to decide how you want to proceed and what you would like to get out of your visit to the area. If you are limited on time you could certainly make a quick stop off at each and tour them all in a single day, but this may not be enough for some (plus, if you go inside all of them then it might get pretty expensive fast!). All of these castles are in such fantastical surroundings that you could easily take a day out to each of them, but I personally prefer to take a quick tour of places and return to my favourites, so you could always plan a day to visit all of them and then return for a proper visit to the ones that really took your breath away at a later date...

Getting There

This will be a little tricky for a number of reasons - mostly being your start point will dictate the route you take. The castles selected today form a nice curve (that you can see on the map towards the end) where you can start at Conwy Castle, jump up onto Anglesey, back onto the mainland then head south (or the reverse, of course). To give you an estimate based on Google Maps, starting from Beaumaris and ending at Harlech Castle, you will be doing roughly 2 and a half hours (just over 80 miles following the recommended route) of driving; most of the castles in this day out operate opening hours of 10 am - 4 pm, so if you arrive at the first castle for opening then throughout the day you will have 3 and a half hours to explore. If you feel like this isn't enough time then consider splitting this into multiple days, but if you just want to see the castle and its surroundings, plus a wander around inside, then I think this is absolutely doable.

There will be plenty of details about getting to each of these castles in their respective articles, but as a general overview: each of these castles is either within a major settlement around Wales or along an A-road with good access and at least a few parking spaces. Obviously, castles are popular attractions so plan your visit carefully in the busy season and consider mapping out the best local car parks or connecting walks to make your life as easy as possible.

The main piece of advice I can give to any beginner adventurer who may not be used to spending so much time driving - pick the furthest away location from where you are based and work your way back home throughout the day, that way you eliminate the bulk of the driving while you are at your freshest and slowly make your way home as the day gradually wears you out.

Conwy Castle

We start our route at Conwy Castle and boy is it a great starting point. This towering castle is wonderfully complemented by the suspension bridge at its front, plus the harborfront and its sections of still standing town walls mean you could easily spend as much time outside of this castle as you do inside. Once inside, there are plenty of areas still accessible and some great views out over the surrounding areas. I would expect Conwy to be amongst the longest stop-offs, so it will make a good litmus test for how long you will be at each stop, if you find yourself wanting more than an hour around here then I would once again recommend splitting this into multiple days out.

If you do find yourself on the opposite side of the River Conwy then you must find somewhere to park and check out the castle from one of its most awe-inspiring angles, which you can check out in the article below...

Onto Anglesey and Beaumaris Castle

We're now breaking away from the mainland and crossing onto Anglesey, and since this is a bit of a historical tour you may want to take the Menai Suspension Bridge (a gorgeous 19th century Thomas Telford creation) across the strait to keep with the theme! Once back down onto terra firma you are just a short drive from the next castle on this list and what a beauty it is! Beaumaris Castle is undoubtedly a contender for the prettiest thanks to that moat, when captured on a sunny day the gentle waves sparkle against the cold stone walls and it just makes it.

While still a substantial castle, Beaumaris is arguably a quicker one to take in than some of the others on this list - it has a good number of nooks and crannies to delve into, but its core component is a sprawling inner bailey and surprisingly ample outer bailey. There aren't too many spiral staircases and tall towers to ascend so this feels like a much more open castle to explore, but still well worth stopping off at. Spend some time walking down the seafront, check out Beaumaris pier and take a quick wander around the charming little town before heading onto the next great fortification.

Caernarfon Castle

We're sticking with the big castles for now and Caernarfon is quite possibly my favourite out of the ones we will visit today. Climbing each of the towers offers a slightly different view, either out over the ocean or up the Afon Seiont towards the mountains and the multi-tiered inner courtyard is picture-perfect. Beyond the castle is Conwy's town walls, a seafront walk and you should cross Pont Yr Aber, the footbridge by the castle, to take in one of the best angles of the castle.

The town itself has plenty to see and do, having long since expanded beyond its historic walls to be quite a substantial settlement. This is another castle and town where you could easily spend more than your allotted time on this quick rundown of Welsh castles, so once again consider whether you want to explore more here or keep on with your planned itinerary. I think you could easily keep up with all these castles in a single day, but Caernarfon is one of those spots well-deserving of a day out in its own right.

Grabbing a bite in Caernarfon

If you're on schedule with our plan then you will probably arrive at Caernarfon around lunchtime, and that is pretty perfect given this sprawling royal town has plenty of options on offer. While you cannot beat a chip shop when by the seaside, you aren't restricted to just that with plenty of restaurants, cafés, bistros and greasy spoons to satisfy your appetite...


Dolbadarn Castle - Llywelyn the Great's fort in the mountains

Our next stop may seem a little lost amongst some of the towering fortresses you have seen so far, but this one is an important part of the local history and is another one in phenomenal surroundings. Just a short drive out of the town of Llanberis, this town has so much going for it that it can be a day out in its own regard but we will just be passing through on our castle tour. Dolbadarn is one of the more ruinous castles on this tour, but you cannot deny it makes up for it by being in some astonishing surroundings. On the gap between Llyn Peris and Llyn Padarn and with an amazing view up the mountain pass towards Snowdon, even if most of the buildings require a bit of imagination to see you won't leave this spot disappointed...

Leaving Dolbadarn Castle

If you want the easiest drive possible then I recommend returning to the coast, back towards Caernarfon to get to our next destination. The A487 is a nice and smooth route that cuts out the worst of the hilliest terrain and narrower lanes and takes you practically all the way there - in testing, Google Maps seems to agree that it will typically end up being the quickest option for you too. Of course, if you love driving a bit of scenery then you really should cut through the Pen-y-Pass and through the Beddgelert roads - they can be tricky in parts but they really are amazing places to see!

Criccieth Castle

You will now have made your way across the width of the Llyn Peninsula and be looking out over the Cardigan Bay, so if you want to get a real good look out over the ocean you will struggle to find a better spot than Criccieth Castle. Another native Welsh castle that is also in an unfortunate state, this one may once again not have much of its original structure still standing but being able to stand at the far end of the rock it sits on and be surrounded by the blue of the sea is so worth the visit!

As you may have guessed, Criccieth is once again a charming little town on the seafront but the beaches here are really just something else - Cardigan Bay is littered with spectacular golden beaches but the ones here are really special, most likely due to the backdrop of Criccieth Castle adding a certain flair you cannot get anywhere else.

Harlech Castle

We will round out this day with another member of the Ring of Iron - Harlech Castle. Formerly situated on the sea, the land in front of it may have taken away its strategic vantage point but it hasn't diminished the views any! Considering it is one of the smaller castles constructed by the English in the north, this one is still surprisingly complete and offers plenty to see around its many towers and wall-walks.

If you followed the north to south route outlined above then you will be wrapping up your day here, so once the castles shut and you've probably had your fill of medieval history then you could always go down to Harlech Beach, dip your toes in the water and reflect on all the sensational castles and which you enjoyed the most...

Extending your day

As if this wasn't an already jam-packed day of adventuring, if you fancy tacking on one more castle then you could always plan an extra stop off at Dolwyddelan Castle. You would have to adjust the route to incorporate it, as it sits on the A470 between Blaenau-Ffestiniog and Betws-y-Coed, but it's a super quick stop considering there is only a single turret remaining. I've discussed it in our 10 quick stops around Snowdonia article, but never delved into a full write up because, unfortunately for me, the few times we've visited it has been shut every time! But don't let our bad luck stop you, if this day of castles wasn't castle-y enough then you could easily add one more castle on... And on that note, I think I've spoken enough about castles.

Places mentioned in this article

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